M's 2014 Pitching Resources
True But Not Accurate, dept.


Q.  Should we "project" the 2014 M's rotation to be roughly comparable to the one in 2013?

A.  Shannon Drayer, bless her heart, floated the thought that the M's rotation could be -100 runs better next year.  If I'd been her I might have rephrased that thought (if I'd offered it) to say that the M's pitching could be -100 runs better.

The response, in the blog-o-sphere, was that:

  • Taijuan and K-Pax might do okay in 2014
  • If so, this is bound to be better than the 'dreadful' Back of Rotation (BOR) in 2013
  • BUT!  Felix and WBC-san should be presumed to regress significantly
  • So it largely offsets
  • Look at all the rotations recently.  None of them did 100 runs better than the M's 2013 rotation
  • Therefore, if we're being really, really nice about it, -30 runs is where we would pin our hopes
  • Make that -50, -60 runs for the staff as a whole.  MAX
  • Did we mention "MAX"

This seems reasonable enough, if we back up to 10,000 feet on it.


Q.  10,000 feet?  

A.  Yeah.  Let's say we back up to 30,000 feet...

Team Runs Coughed Up Runs Better than M's
M's 754  ( 86 ERA+ )
KC 601 -153 (!)
Det 624 -130
Oak 625 -129
Tex 636 -118 (this being in Texas)
Tampa 646 -108
Bos 662 -92 (this being in Fenway)
AL AVG 696 -58

When you "project" an absolute best case for the M's, of 50-60 runs improvement, you are capping their 2014 performance at "MEDIOCRE."  

Actually, a league-average ERA is below average in Safeco.  You're saying that is the best case scenario, that if absolutely everything breaks right, maybe you've got a hope to be lousy.

HEH :- )


Q.  Should you think in terms of being tied to 2013 performance, and setting a delta from there?

A.  Why would you?  All the pitchers are going to be different, other than the two Cy Young guys.


Q.  If you were Zduriencik's boss, what would you set as the Corporate Goal for 2014 pitching success?

A.  Here's where we get into very important semantics.  You, and I, as bloggers, talk about "hopes" and "projections" and "expectations" and "upside and downside."

But in the steering committees, they ask the managers to come in with GOALS and those goals had better reflect the fact that you think you are good at your job!  You don't get to go in as chairman of Boeing Commercial and say, "we hope to sell 10 planes next year."  LOL.

We gave you a job, we gave you $500K a year, and we expect you to do things a worker bee couldn't do.

We'll see you next year.  You better hope you've hit your goals when we put the chart back on the wall.


Q.  Again, what would you EXPECT, as a GOAL, from an EXPERT who had the M's resources?

A.  Their resources being this:

Pos 2013 Employee Remark 2014 Employee  
SP4 Schlub 5.76 ERA Best SP prospect in baseball  
SP5 Schlub 6.30 ERA James Paxton  
SP6 Erasmo   Erasmo, more experienced  

If you succeeded in replacing SP3, SP4, and SP5 with even 100 ERA+ pitchers, you would position yourself to have one of the three best pitching staffs in the league:

  • 130 ERA+
  • 130
  • 100
  • 100
  • 100

Oakland, last year, had an ace (Colon) and four 90-100 starters.


Q.  But what are the odds that Taijuan will pull a Pineda?

A.  I'd say 70%.  How about you?

But.  We are not talking about his being Michael Pineda, in order for the M's pitching staff to be better than "mediocre."  He merely has to be okay.

Hey.  I'm Zduriencik's boss, I've given him nice bucks for a free agent pitcher, I "project" er, EXPECT him to go get me a good pitcher.

And I'm not asking him to roll with Anthony Vazquez here.  He's got two sparkling blue-chippers to lock and load.

Absolutely.  Zduriencik goes into that board room to sell his pitching plan for 2014, he needs to set VERY HIGH minimum standards for himself.  (If this were an Emirates sales plan, rather than a sub-process we were talking about.)


Q.  By the way, how much do you figure Felix and Iwakuma to regress?

A.  How much do you expect David Price to regress?   Clayton Kershaw?  Cliff Lee?

Here is Felix' Runs Above Replacement, last five years:

Season RAR
2009 61
2010 51
2011 44
2012 54
2013 53
AVG 52

Eeeyup.  Pencil him in for being one run worse, on average.  ... Wait:  he's a better pitcher now than he was in 2010, right?  Oh yeah.

Iwakuma was 39 runs better than replacement.  :: shrug :: That's pretty midrange for an All-Star starter.  Do you buy in to Iwakuma's skill level?  Then what's the big deal about 4 wins from him?

Here's where Dr. D wheels out his "true but not accurate" catch-phrase.  Yeah, your two Cy Young guys are susceptible to having off years.  Felix could blow out a shoulder, as could Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.  In the scheme of things, I wouldn't say that sets anybody up for any excuses in 2014.  

We've given you two legit aces, Lincoln sez.  Now find the guys to go with them and give us a nice pitching staff!  :: shrug ::

Are analysts thinkin' that, if they were in the GM's chair right now, they would get away with a -50 runs improvement for 2014?  They thinkin' wrong, pardner.  

Ms. Drayer's "100 runs in the rotation" analysis might not have been quite true, but it was certainly very accurate.


Q.  Wouldn't a corporate boardroom speak in terms of delta from the last year?

A.  Sometimes it would.  Sometimes it wouldn't.  McDonald's has an ossified franchise system and it's not going to double its franchises from 2013.  There is a business system that is well-and-truly tied to what it did last year.

Other business systems get overhauled.  The PowerPoint slides from last year are junked.  You start from scratch.  

Pitching staffs are not global McDonald's infrastructures.  They are not like McDonald's infrastructures.  You can, um, change pitchers.  You can change most of your pitchers.  You can change the ones you want to, and you can keep the ones you want to, such as Christy Mathewson or Felix Hernandez.

Kansas City gave up 746 runs in 2012.  Last year, they gave up 601.  Happens all the time.  Well, happens sometimes.

If I'm Zduriencik's boss, his job is riding on showing that he can do the same.

Lucky for him I ain't,

Dr D




Funny - we are going through some grueling 2014 budget and project planning exercises right now. My mantra to my team is to strive to be accurate but not to worry about trying to be precise.

blissedj's picture

Looking on baseball reference KC had exactly (2) pitchers with ERA+ under 100. Their #4 and #5 starters. Excellent bullpen with 300 innings of nice production from them. Oakland also won with their bullpen. 4 of their 5 starters ERA+ under 100. How many runs could the M's make up in the bullpen alone? I'm seeing one above average in Medina, 2 guys at 99 and then the rest sporting numbers like 90, 67, 88, 61, 76, 57. Too many black holes and nobody to rely on in any pressure situations. So demoralizing for a struggling team to have their few hard fought leads immolated.

blissedj's picture

Boston, Atlanta had crazy good bullpens. St Louis and Pittsburgh very good as well. Most of them had one or two slightly below average starters. Our rotation is very close to the caliber of those teams if either Walker or Paxton have a good year. Couple average OF's and 2 or 3 solid bullpen arms and our team is respectable right away.

bsr's picture

Doc, I always admire your light touch / ability to stick in the rhetorical knife with a smile :) But, to be fair to the original piece - though it's a bit ambiguously worded when he says "maybe the overall staff can be 50 or 60 runs better" - I think he is still referring to just the rotation. (The bullpen "positive regression" factor is probably referring to holding more inherited runs from scoring, thus helping the starters' total.) I am being charitable here because I can't believe any M's fan let alone a top blogger would overlook the massive potential for bullpen improvement.
Regardless, look at 2013 and the bullpen is the clear black hole on the pitching staff. The Red Sox and Cardinals both had playoff bullpens where EVERY key reliever was MUCH better than the very best reliever on the M's (I'm pretty sure...but remind me, who was that again?). M's bullpen gave up 273 runs. 2nd worst in AL. The Royals gave up 147!
But actually forget KC, you know what team the M's should try to emulate to improve their bullpen?..............The Mariners. 2012 version. That would be a 90 run improvement in the bullpen right there! :) Or how about the 2011 Mariners, that would be a 95 run improvement.
Maybe spending that extra $11 million in the budget would have helped in the bullpen Jack?.....can we please spend it this time around? Thanks


Our bullpen looked great going into 2013: Wilhelmsen, Pryor, Capps, Furbush, OPerez. So much talent, in fact, that All Star Steve Delabar became expendable. Seems it's easier and smarter to focus the money on areas you can better control. The above bullpen (adding Fahrqhar) could materialize and become a real strength, btw. But I do like the idea of adding a MLB(TM) closer, or maybe a stud from Japan.

blissedj's picture

We have had with our young hitters. As you mention above "so much talent", and I agree there are many talented bullpen arms in our system. But young talent that shows flashes early does not always equal year in, year out production. When a few (or almost all) inevitably fall short of their talent, you are left with the 2011 or 2012 run scoring issues. Or the terrible 2013 bullpen. Even our shiny closer option Farquhar only had an ERA+ of 88.
The amount of money to get a couple good relievers is so low, and by no means does getting 2 or 3 proven guys stop you from developing the 4 or 5 best young, cheap arms to go with them.


We'd been working hard around our company making sure we communicate our messages to all four learning quadrants. And it occurred to me you do it like a master and probably without even realizing it. The bullet points, the breakdown and examination of the pieces that make the whole, the Q&A, the synthesizing, the approach you take in incorporating the readers and their own backgrounds and knowledge, the ability to bring it all to the big picture - it's an approach that is quite the rage in developing successful products at Microsoft. You can read about it here: http://www.hbdi.com/uploads/100025_casestudies/100774.pdf

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